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Send in the Clowns

Animal rights -- and wrongs -- at the greatest show on earth.

The only funny clown is a dead clown. Because it's so ironic. If some guy were to ask me, "Hey, What's So Funny, how would you define irony?" I wouldn't say, "An expression or utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning." I'd just say, "Dead clown." And he would understand exactly what I meant. All that stupid fucking clown ever wanted to do was to put on makeup and a costume and entertain people, and now he's dead! What an idiot. And he's still got that painted smile on his face, like somehow, even deceased, he's going to entertain. Hey, let's honk his nose. Ha, ha, it still makes a sound! I wonder how many dead clowns you could cram into one of those tiny clown cars? Thirty? Forty? I'll bet a heck of a lot more than living clowns.

Similarly, the only good circus is a circus on fire. Just a hot, blazing conflagration of circus, melting in on itself like some twisted Dalí painting. Because circuses blow. Yes, even you, Cirque du Soleil, if that is your real name. You think we're so impressed with your arsenal of freakishly masked androgynous prance-abouts, but nay. If I wanted to see a bunch of transvestites twirling in circles, I'd drive to Trinidad and snort meth.

But circuses are impossible to ignore in Denver. If we were living in New York City, where cultural alternatives are hurled in our face like so much chimpanzee feces, it might be possible -- "Hey, did you know the circus is in town?" "They still do that? Ta-cky! Now hurry up and step over that dead homeless man; we're going to be late for Def Poetry." -- but not here. Sure, there are cultural alternatives, but none with a remotely comparable advertising budget. So while open mikes, worthy exhibits and great concerts abound, all we're going to hear about for the next two weeks is Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, the greatest motherfucking show on earth. Hell, even I've already gotten wind of it, and the only time I've got my ear to the ground is if I pass out before I make it to my apartment.

Last Monday, the circus announced that at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, the happy animals would parade through the streets of Denver. By parade, of course, they meant that the animals would march from the train tracks across from the Coliseum to the holding pens in the back.

When I arrived at 9:45, the parade was long over. The circus had arrived at five in the morning, and they had to get those animals off the train as quickly as possible, a perky PR flack informed me. Making the animals wait for four hours and forty-five minutes, as opposed to four hours and thirty minutes, would just be too inhumane. "Well, can I go look at the elephants?" I asked.

"They're in the back, getting used to their new living quarters," she beamed, then told me that I should come back the next day, when everything would be all set up, and they'd have finished bathing the elephants in rainbows or whatever.

As I drove off, I could see the elephants lined up in a row beneath a tent. I thought about them again as I glanced through the propaganda I'd been given by the flack. In addition to the normal crap about the newest acts and performers, there was a separate packet explaining the circus's relationship with its animals.

Only those elephants with a suitable temperament and a natural predisposition toward training are selected for performances, it revealed.

It's reassuring to know that out on the plains of Africa, only the elephants with gaudy red bandannas strapped to their heads, kicking around giant balls and stacking up on one another like cups in a cabinet, are selected for the circus.

There is no evidence at all that captive elephants are any more prone to aggressive or erratic behavior than those in the wild. In fact, trained elephants are more predictable in their behavior.

Well, duh. You chain an animal to the ground, you can pretty much predict how it's going to act.

The affection and awe that they generate among circus audiences helps focus attention on the current challenges facing the future survival of the species.

Like elephants dying from neglect in the circus?

Sorry to get all PETA on you, comrades, but Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey are not fooling anybody. Not with their hyping of their Center for Elephant Conservation in Orlando, not with their promotion of Bello, the wacky comic daredevil, voted America's Best Clown! The fact of the matter is that the circus is an outdated, primitive, hostile and indefensibly lame custom that our society should have abandoned long ago. Even if your kids start screaming, it's not a good parental move to take them to the circus. Unless, of course, you can guarantee that an angry elephant is going to crush a clown car mid-show.

In that case, take the kids, take the neighbor's kids, and give your old pal What's So Funny a call. I'll spring for the cotton candy.

 
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